Col De l’Aiguille Verte, (5.4, 700m)

(Col De l’Aiguille Verte Trip Report From Sunday 10th April 2016)

It’s fairly evident to those who live here that the mountains are getting busier and busier as time goes by.  The Argentiere Glacier has been, and always will be one of the stomping grounds for Extreme Skiers out looking for the perfect day on the steep north faces.  I wouldn’t really class myself as an Extreme Skier. Strapping it on for a 5.4 (Technical Ski Grade) is about the limit of what I would ever feel comfortable skiing and only once every blue moon at that.  I like the feeling of skiing steep powder for sure but the worry and stress associated with putting yourself in that situation is draining to say the least.

I digress. Oh yeah busy….. busy busy busy. Jostle, hustle push and shove. “got to get the first bin!” got to get there before its too late.  Exiting the first bin on a busy day such as yesterday (Sunday) and polling off into the basin, it’s hard to not feel smug.  We have the pick of all the amazing routes in their shinning spring condition.  But what if someone follows us?! I don’t want to race. I want to clip into my skis fresh without stress.  I don’t want anyone above me or below me.  I want this day to be ours.

When I spoke to Joel about skiing the Col De l’Aiguille Verte I could tell he was nervous.  He’s not been skiing that long (even less than my 7 seasons!) but he’s proved himself on a few bigger faces and is super keen.  I knew he’d be happy to bail at the first sniff of trouble which is an admirable quality some lack.

When we reached the bottom of the slope that heads up to the Col De l’Aiguille Verte things looked good and we quickly changed over and started up the short skin to the bottom of the face.  Over the bergshrund we ditched the rope, shovels and probes. We wouldn’t be needing the weight and reasoned an avalanche on a 53 degree slope would be unlikely or catastrophic.

On the climb up we passed a ski that was sticking out of the slope. We’d found a hat at the bottom too and scratched our heads as to what had happened and what to do.  We carried on and found an ice axe about 400m up too.  It later transpired someone had fallen (I still don’t know the circumstances) and had managed to “get away with a broken leg”. Lucky guy.

We kept a steady pace and about 2/3 of the way up were caught up by a friendly Frenchman, Boris Dufour who was on the 4th cable car.  He’d set a good pace to catch us and remained close for the rest of the climb to the Col and during the descent knowing that the danger would be sluff management (by sluff I mean loose snow which grows and gains power the further it goes). After taking some photo’s from the top we slowly and hesitantly started skiing. The first turns were tough with the deep crusty snow but soon things got better and we were able to make some more relaxed, but much steeper and more intimidating turns in the guts of the face.

We pitched it carefully staying out of harms way by tucking under rocks and sticking to spurs as others skied.  The snow was pouring down the face as you skied funneling into massive sluff trains that went all the way to the glacier, cascading off rocks on the way.

Hopping the shrund and heading back to the ski area it all sunk in and a feeling of accomplishment mixed with joy washed over us. A line I’ve always dreamed of with fantastic snow and excellent weather means it will be a day etched into my memory forever.  I’m glad to have shared it with Joel and Boris…… and only them.

 

A Fine Link

Ski Mountaineering for me is about finding great link ups involving climbing, and skiing and traversing peaks. Last Sunday, after a cruzy day exploring Les Contamines with Irene, me and Josh Fawcett headed out to make some SKIMO (ski Mountaineering) and scored a pretty good day almost by mistake.  With a vague plan to hit the Traverse of the Noire and “possibly something else” and a even vaguer forecast suggesting some wind and precipitation at some point during the day we went into the day with an open mind.

We headed out from the Aiguille du Midi down the classic Vallee Blanche and over to the Italian side.  Hiking up the glacier to the start of the climb through the cold gusty wind with flakes of snow whipping past our noses we were slightly hesitant and came close to turning back a few times.. The weather was clear on the french side and we hoped the small localised weather spilling over from Italy wouldn’t follow us into the Traverse of the Noire. Thankfully by the time we reached the boot pack leading up to Pointe Yeild things were dying down so we carried on over the ridge to the top of the face.  I’d been here a few years ago with Tom, Ross and Michelle.. We got spooked out by wind slab and decided to head back. This time however there were about twenty tracks, ten going skiers left and ten going skiers right down the convex face. We opted for right hand option and skied down a little way to the steep choke which is normally pretty icey.

We side stepped down through this which was both tiring and intimidating due to the nature of the crumbling snow, but managed to score some pow turns on the lower face before busting hard skiers right through the glacier and over to the bottom of the Breche Puiseux. From here we decided we had enough time and psyche to go and ski the NW shoulder of them Aiguille Tacul aswell. The climb up the final gully was roasting hot but it was worth suffering the heat and softening snow as we found a few good turns on the way down this line. The best snow however was on the moraine bench hard skiers right going down to the Leschaux Glacier at the end.

A great little link up of about 1200m vertical ascent with some really good snow on the descents and with a variety of different terrain and views to keep us amused. All in all a good day out on the hill!

Click on the Pictures bellow to see them in gallery format.

 

SUNSHINE!

I know It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. I’ve been busy in Scotland with gathering British Mountain Guides prerequisites and the final Induction Course. I’m pretty pleased to announce my new title (and the other 11 guys!) of Trainee Mountain guide! Also the weather has been pretty bad for a fairly long time so big days have been few and far between, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hovering up some pow.. 😉

Trainee Guide LADS

Trainee Guide LADS

Dave Searle

Climbing Cutlass VI 7 on Ben Nevis

I can’t remember last time it was this good in the Mont Blanc Massif. With loads of snow low down and a lot of lines up high holding cold, deep snow there is surely no better time to get after it.  Yesterday me and my long time shred buddy Stephen “Chipie” Windross headed out with a view to ski a line in the Geant area.

Picking an objective can often be tricky.  You obviously want to ski something that is in safe condition but it also has to suit the teams fitness and aspirations whilst also be something new or interesting.  As is often the way in the Mountains that things don’t  pan out the way you’re expecting so its worth having some back up plans just in case. Something which this area is unique for offering a few possibilities of lines.

We finally settled on the Breche Du Tacul, a route I’ve skied a couple of times before but I was still motivated to go and ski again.  Despite some deep snow wading on the way up the final climb that was a real test of tenacity, we made it to the top in good time and with no one else around. Always a fantastic view and with amazing conditions, the descent was all time.

Here’s a Link to the Route on Chamonix Topo and bellow is a map of other ski tours in the area.

More soon I hope! Please fill out the following poll to help me improve my blog!

 

Couturier to Whymper. The Great Connection.

Team Summit shot (L-R Mikko, Ross, Me)

Team Summit shot (L-R Mikko Heimonen, Ross Hewitt and Me)

This day has been a dream of mine and Ross for some time. We had talked about it for  three seasons and had yet to find the perfect day when all the stars were aligned. Sometimes its best just to throw caution to the wind and get out there and chase your dream, even though we knew conditions wouldn’t be ideal.

The plan was to stay in the Grandes Montets top station to make an early start to climb the Couturier Couloir to the summit of the Aiguille Verte. From here we would descend down the ridge to the top of the Whymper Couloir where we would start our descent on ski’s.

The climb up was less than ideal with several sections of black ice, some funky serac climbing and some deep crevasses to cross high up on the Grands Montets Ridge.  It was however mostly just steep snow climbing it still took its toll on the body and mind.  I took my lightweight ski touring axes with me, which weren’t perhaps the best tools for the job but I still managed to bash my way through the bullet hard ice sections. It was gusting pretty hard on the summit and we knew we had little chance of finding good spring corn in the Whymper. The wind was blowing straight onto the couloir and counteracting the suns affect of softening the snow.  We meet Seth Morrison and his partner at the top of Couloir. They had climbed up and reported that it was super hard snow. After watching them ski we knew it would be manageable but not pleasant but there was no talk of abseiling.

We jumped turned and scraped our way down the couloir.  Not in the best style admittedly but what little soft snow there was had already been scrapped and what was left was either very firm or slightly crusty. Not ideal ski conditions but we still managed to make it all the way down the face without getting the rope out.  This was my first time skiing on the Verte and my first 5.3 in hard snow. It was also Ross and Mikko’s first time on the summit which was a great moment to share. It was also my first time skiing with Mikko Heimonen, who is probably one of the most understated extreme skiers operating in Chamonix at the moment.

Thanks for a great day guys…even though you might count it as type 2 fun it will be one of those days that is etched into my memory forever.

Mikko’s pictures here 

Contrary to popular belief British climbers CAN Ski.

The NE face of The amone. Photo Courtesy of Ross Hewitt

Here are some picy’s of me and a mate Ross Hewitt Skiing the north east face of the Aiguille Du L’Amone.

This was the best days skiing I have ever had. Fact. I’m not sure why its Fact but it was damn good.

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